Sunday 30 May 2010

Two Presentations and a Ramble

After a week of fine weather, Saturday's forecast looked certain to spoil things. The first day of the Spring Bank Holiday weekend was billed as a double event for West Kent CAMRA, in so much that we had two pubs to visit and different certificates to present to both.

The Hopbine, in the tiny hamlet of Petteridge, is a former King & Barnes pub, which is now owned by Hall & Woodhouse. As such it offers the rare opportunity of sampling this Dorset brewers excellent ales, but good though the Badger beers are in the Hopbine, the purpose of our visit on Saturday was to present landlord Mike Winser, and his wife "B" with a certificate to celebrate 25 consecutive years in the Good Beer Guide. This is a rare achievement, and there are no other pubs in the branch area that can boast such a prestigious long-running appearance. In fact I would be hard pushed to name any other pub in Kent that can claim such a thing.

The award was a few months late in being presented, as we were originally due to visit the Hopbine back in January. Some of the heaviest snow-fall in years though scuppered that plan, and with a crowded branch calender it meant that May was the earliest date we were able to re-schedule the event.

Half of those attending made the journey to Petteridge by bus, whilst the rest of us, myself included, walked. For me this was the first opportunity I'd had to try out my new hiking boots, and I must say they performed very well. Whilst not quite top of the range, I had spent a considerable sum (for me!) on them, and so would have not been best pleased had they failed to live up to expectations. My companions and I set off from Paddock Wood station to walk the three and a half miles or so the the Hopbine; it's a well-tried and well-trodden route and we were lucky that, apart from a few spots of rain, the threatened deluge didn't materialise.

The Badger First Gold on sale at the pub slipped down a treat. I don't know whether it was the thirst I had built up from the walk or not, but this beer had just the right combination of hop bite and sweet juicy malt to be the perfect post-walk pint. Landlord Mike was delighted with his certificate, and it joins several others, including Branch Pub of the Year, on his wall. Photographs were taken, hopefully for publication in the local papers, but shortly afterwards the promised rain started to come down.

I would have liked to have lingered longer in the Hopbine; it really is the perfect country pub, with a warming log fire in winter, tables and benches outside for summer, and a loyal band of regulars who, together with Mike and his wife, always provide a warm welcome for visitors. We had another pub to visit that day though; one that is a perennial branch favourite, and which this year won the Branch Pub of the Year award. On top of that the Halfway House at Brenchley was hosting its annual Whitsun Bank Holiday Beer Festival!

We got soaked walking the short, cross-country route between the two pubs, but arriving at the Halfway House we found that host Richard Allen was well prepared for the vagaries of the English climate. There were 60 beers on sale, all competitively priced at £2.80 a pint. Normally the pub has up to 10 ales on, all served by gravity direct from the cask. The bulk of the festival beers though were on sale outside, from a booth-like tented gazebo structure which provided sufficient shelter for the people serving the beers, plus those queuing up to drink them.

After selecting our beers, most of us ended up inside the pub, which was heaving. We still managed to find a table or two, as one of many delights about the Halfway House is that it is a maze of small, inter-connecting rooms on different levels, all exhibiting a degree of antiquity and cosiness that is the hall-mark of this pub. After enjoying a large beefburger, cooked outside on a covered barbecue from meat supplied by the village butcher, I started to get stuck into the beers. In the main I stayed with the pale and golden bitters, of which there were more than a few! Despite the damp weather they seemed the right thing to be drinking on this late Spring Bank Holiday weekend, and I certainly enjoyed a fair number of them. Amongst those that really stuck out were Coastal Hop Monster, Phoenix Hopsack, Hawkshead Lakeland Gold, Prospect Gold Rush and Fyne Ales Avalanche. Non golden beers I enjoyed included Lymestone Stone Faced, Wold Top Falling Stone (excellent) and Champion Winter Beer of Britain - Elland 1872 Porter.

Mid way through the afternoon the rain eased off and Iain, our branch chairman, managed to grab hold of Richard long enough to present him with his certificate outside the pub, and also to get some photographs taken. Those travelling by bus departed shortly after half four, but those of us on foot stayed until about seven o'clock.

I don't remember much about the walk back to the station , apart from crossing an abandoned golf course, that is slowly reverting back to nature, and the fact that it was quite wet underfoot. Still my new boots performed well and kept my feet bone dry, and arriving in Paddock Wood we had sufficient time to call into the local chippy for a much needed portion of chips to help soak up the excess beer!

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Price Hike at Oktoberfest.

This clip from Wednesday's Telegraph is not good news for anyone thinking of attending this year's Oktoberfest! I've never been to the event myself, although I've been to Munich several times. It's one of my favourite cities and on past visits I have enjoyed sampling the wares of it's big six breweries (Augustiner, Hofbrau, Hacker-Pschorr, Lowenbrau, Paulaner and Spaten), especially in the relaxed setting of Munich's numerous beer gardens. (Incidentally the aforementioned are the only breweries allowed to participate in this two-week festival of beer-swilling and general over-indulgence.) They all brew a special Festbier for the event, and at a strength of 6% abv, perhaps the price doesn't seem quite so steep, but swilling beer of this strength by the Mass (litre), in the infectious, carnival-like atmosphere of the Wies'n may not be quite such a good idea, especially the following morning!

Having said that,
I still wouldn't mind going, but as the Oktoberfest is an event that is definitely best enjoyed in the company of friends, I would need to persuade some like-minded companions to accompany me, and plenty of readies to spend on the beer! I'm not going to regurgitate all the statistics about how sausages, roasted chickens, pork knuckles and of course litres of beer that are consumed at the event, or how many million visitors attend, but for the sheer scale of the festival, it would be something to see.

I've already sorted out my holiday arrangements for this year, but if any hardy souls fancy going along in 2011, please get in touch.

Monday 24 May 2010

Brecknock Arms

We had a good night in the Brecknock on Saturday, but then it's hard not to have a good night in such an excellent pub. We caught the 18:58 train from Tonbridge, alighting at Frant station, and then walked the short distnce up to the pub. On the way we called in to the newly opened village shop; it's always good to see a shop opening in a village (or indeed anywhere), as it's normally the other way round. Suitably laden with purchases to nibble on the way home (Kettle Chips and the like), we wandered up to the pub ready for some serious enjoyment of Harveys.

The pub was busy; the village cricket team had just finished their game and the place was full of thirsty cricketers keen to quench their thirst on some of Lewes's finest. Most of the team though were outside, taking advantage of the unusually hot May weather, so we had no trouble in finding a table. The latter was important, because we wanted somewhere to spread our maps and guide-books out; the main objective of the evening being to sort out the route, and stages for our latest long-distance walk. After succesfully completing the South Downs Way last year, my friend Eric and I are planning to walk the Wealdway. This is a slightly shorter footpath that runs from Gravesend, on the Thames Estuary, to Eastbourne on the south coast.

By the end of the evening we had sorted out the itinerary and accommodation stops for the first four days of the walk. This will take us through Kent and well into Sussex following a southwards course, initially across the North Downs and the Greensand Ridge before crossing the main part of Ashdown Forest, in the centre of the Weald. In between studying maps and guide-book, we kept ourselves well lubricated with some of the excellent Harveys Best, which landlord Joe always keeps in absolute tip-top condition.

For those not in the know, the Brecknock Arms is a Harveys tied pub in the middle of Bells Yew Green, a small village a few miles south east of Tunbridge Wells. It is easily reached by train from the latter, and also from Tonbridge, where I live. Confusingly, the nearby station is called Frant, even though Frant village is about a mile and a half away. The pub underwent a bit of a refit just over a year ago, which resulted in moving the bar back, and providing a connection between the two former separate bars. The Brecknock is a real community local, and being on the national rail network also attracts its fair share of visitors from further afield, of which I am happy to include myself.

Joe and his partner Charlotte, have been at the pub for a couple of years now, having taken over from the previous, long-serving tenants. They serve good quality food, from a varied menu, and also usually feature one of Harveys seasonal ales. On Saturday, Knots of May Light Mild was on sale alongside the Best Bitter, but this 3.0% beer is a bit on the weak side for my taste and even though we sank quite a few pints that night, the Best Bitter was just perfect.

Much earlier in the year we held our Good Beer Guide Selection Meeting at the pub, and seeing as the meeting took place on a Sunday lunchtime, many of us went for the option of Sunday lunch first. It was a freezing cold January day, and the Harveys Old Ale we enjoyed that day, alongside the Fullers London Porter, which was on as a guest ale, were just the ticket. All of this proves that whatever the season, the Brecknock is definitely a pub that is well worth seeking out.

Sunday 16 May 2010

Blogger Update

I haven't really done a lot beer-wise since my visit to Whitstable last weekend. (You can read all about the trip by clicking here). I went on the waggon last week, for five days, primarily as an attempt to shake off the persistent cold and hacking cough that's been dogging me ever since my return from the Isle of Man, and which left me feeling very lethargic. Hopefully the cold is now on its way out, but it's doubtful that my abstinence from drink played much of a part in this, and on Friday evening I broke my self-imposed drink ban and joined a work colleague and his wife for a few beers.

My colleague lives in Sevenoaks, and his nearest pub is the Rifleman, a thriving back-street, corner local. I don't recall having visited the Rifleman before, and on entering I was pleased to note that the pub still has two separate bars. I was rather less pleased to see that the pub is tied to Greene King, and after an evening spent supping the company's beers, my dislike of them was only enhanced. After five day's abstinence I would much have preferred something else, but nights at the pub are often about more than just the beer and Matt and I spent an enjoyable evening chatting to Andrew and his wife Emma, plus their Belgian friend John, who was visiting for the weekend.

Yesterday evening I enjoyed a couple of bottles of Brakspears; Bitter plus Oxford Gold, and it will be some Czech Lager tonight, courtesy of our local Co-Op. I've been looking at summerhouses over the past week or so, and having finally decided on the one I want I'm now in a position to go ahead and place my order. The summerhouse will house my home-brewery - the kit's sadly been bereft of a home since our garage was pulled down six years ago and re-built as living accommodation. Looking forward to starting up brewing again, probably in the autumn - if all goes according to plan.

Back to work tomorrow. Not anticipating much action on the beer front until the weekend after next, when the Halfway House, Brenchley holds its Spring Beer Festival, although we may try a trip to the Brecknock Arms next Saturday.

Monday 10 May 2010

Moodleys Update

Following my recent posting about Moodleys Brewery, owner and brewer, Yudhistra has picked up on my blog and has kindly provided me with some updates regarding the brewery. These primarily came about as a response to the feedback he received at last month's tasting evening at the Anchor in Sevenoaks.

Yudhistra writes: "I took on board your comments on the night and I have made two changes to my process which should help the beer to drop bright fairly quickly.

Firstly, I now use vegetarian finings and secondly, I have improved the process by chilling the wort immediately after the boil. As a result, there is an immediate difference in the clarity of the beer in the fermenter, which was quite exciting to see. So far, there have been two brews which have employed the new methods and I am yet to bottle these. Hopefully, you will get to taste the results.
Toad Rock Bitter will have Admiral hops in the boil from next week. These as you know have a much higher Alpha acid content than Bramling Cross. Thanks once again for the comments and would you be able to mention the above changes in your blog please?"

No problem Yudhistra, glad to be of assistance, and I look forward to sampling the beers in their new form.

ps. I believe that Timothy Taylors use vegetarian finings, so Moodleys should be in good company!

Thursday 6 May 2010

Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewery

Breweries in West Kent are like buses; you wait ages for one to appear and then three come along all at once!

After attending a sampling of Moodleys new beers the other week, last night I was one of a number of people invited to a tasting of beers brewed by the new Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewery. The tasting was held at the Sussex Arms, in the Pantiles area of Tunbridge Wells. Those of us of a certain age remember with fond memories the old Sussex Arms, when it was run by Dennis and Barbara Lane. The pub was something of an institution in the town, and could rightly be described as a pub of character that was full of characters!

All that changed 20 years or do ago, when much of the Pantiles was "gentrified" (re-developed for the worse). Dennis and Barbara retired. The Sussex was gutted and given a complete re-fit, and after being taken over by Greene King, became something of a young persons pub. I must say that the stark re-fit it received has mellowed over the years, and I was surprised to find myself quite liking the place..............but I digress!

To return to the RTWB and its beers. Roughly 30 years ago, there was a company operating just outside the town, under the Royal Tunbridge Wells name. I remember visiting the brewery and buying a polypin of their Best Bitter one Christmas, but after several changes of ownership the company ceased trading. The brewing plant was bought by Bob Dockerty, when he set up Larkins Brewery, and ironically I saw it in action earlier today, when I called round for a chat with Bob, in my capacity as Larkins BLO.

The new RTWB is the brainchild of drinks consultant, Simon Lewis. He also has on board with him Ian Dorman, who was one of the partners in the original brewery, and Ian was present last night, along with some artifacts from the original brewery. When I arrived at the Sussex there were three casks stillaged on the bar, with their taps facing the customers' side. Simon told us to take a glass, together with a poling card. plus tasting notes, and help ourselves. The poling card was appropriate, given that we were just one day away from the general election, and to help us make our choice, the casks were marked Yellow, Red and Blue.

The Yellow cask contained a 3.6% Blonde beer, which many of us thought needed a bit more refinement, but no such allegations could be laid against the Red and Blue offerings. The former was a 3.8% Ordinary Bitter, whilst the latter was a 4.1% Best Bitter, said to be based on the beer of the same name brewed by the original RTWB. Both beers were well-hopped, and well-balanced, but unfortunately having written my comments on the tasting notes and then popped them into the ballot box, I neglected to pick up an additional copy for my personal information. I therefore am unable to give as much information about the beers as I would have liked, apart from saying that the Red and the Blue will both go down well in local pubs. I am certain too that, given time and a bit more development, the Yellow will also be a welcome summer seasonal beer.

The general election "theme", combined with the comments we made on our tasting notes, will provide Simon and Ian with valuable feedback on the beers, and we were also shown examples of potential artwork for pump clips and other brewery advertising material. The whole event therefore, was a clever and well-thought out means of gauging public opinion from both local landlords and drinkers alike. From the pictures I've seen of the brewing kit on the company's Facebook page, this looks like a well set up, and well thought out operation, and like many fellow drinkers in the area I look forward to sampling the brewery's wares, in local pubs, within the not too distant future.